Opportunity for Tolerance

Over the past year, Jerusalem has become the capital of controversy between Israel and the Palestinians and the focus of tensions with the Muslim world. In addition to the crises surrounding the expansion of the Jewish presence in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, we now have the plan by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to establish a museum of tolerance in the Mamilla area on the grounds of an old Muslim cemetery.

The planning and building council approved the project despite protests by Muslim and human rights groups. Appeals by the Jordanian government to reconsider the building's location have been turned down. The High Court of Justice rejected an appeal by opponents of the plan and gave it its seal of approval, but High Court President Dorit Beinisch canceled a plan to build Jerusalem's new district and magistrate's courts near the site.

On Friday, Akiva Eldar reported in Haaretz that architect Frank Gehry was withdrawing from the museum's planning process following a decision by the Wiesenthal Center to limit the project. Nevertheless, leaders of the Wiesenthal Center say they are determined to set up the museum on the site of the old cemetery. They said in a statement that the museum was of great importance to the future of Jerusalem and the Israel people, and its size would reflect the global economic situation.

The peace of Jerusalem and the future of the Israeli people are to be found in the Jewish state's willingness to be considerate to its minorities.

First and foremost, the new plan must reflect Jerusalem's complex cultural, religious and political reality. Gehry's departure from the project gives its initiators, donors and the planning authorities a chance to correct the Orwellian distortion of a Jewish organization establishing a museum of tolerance while showing a lack of tolerance toward another faith.

If the project's initiators insist on their right to show intolerance, the Jerusalem municipality must state that the new plan for the museum requires a new discussion by planning bodies. Mayor Nir Barkat can offer the center sites more suitable for a building that is supposed to promote tolerance in a city sacred to three religions.